This was the newpaper version I sent to The Star, New Straits Times and The Sun a whiles back. Of all the papers, it’s finally printed in The Sun, which is the hardest to get into!
I originally titled the letter ‘The Beginner’s Guide to Malaysian Interstate Buses.‘ I don’t quite feel that the new designation the papers gave my letter is very descriptive of the overall letter, night buses being only one aspect of our admirable interstate bus system. Nor is it very catchy.
But kudos to The Sun for printing it almost completely word-for-word unedited, my third such letter to make it through the editorial snippers after Religious Pluralism Dogma and Whitewash and The Sun Speak Up!: Beware Fascism In Science.
Thanks especially to Jonathan Chen for informing me of the letter appearing in The Sun. I would probably have missed it otherwise!
Bum deal on night buses
To the tourist or occasional bus user, stepping into a bus station in Malaysia must seem quite daunting. As a frequent user of interstate buses, allow me to advise you on what your travel experience will probably be like.
The buses will be late. Malaysians follow Malaysian time, and the buses even more so. Unless you’re taking a night bus, in which case you might arrive an hour earlier than is possible under the highway speed limit.
You may not get to sleep away the long journey. Other passengers may chat loudly or use their phones on speaker-call mode. Some drivers will turn the music up loud, even on night buses. But I always tell myself, a little discomfort on my part is better than the driver dozing off at the wheel!
You will be lied to. If the ticket tout says the bus is going to leave immediately, and you hurriedly purchase a ticket and rush onto the bus … be prepared to sit around idly as they wait for several more last-minute passengers.
You will be robbed blind during the holiday season. Everyone is taking a bus to their hometown, especially at Hari Raya and Chinese New Year. Expect prices for tickets to as much as double, and be prepared to take whatever bus is available … even off-duty factory and school buses. And if you’re unwilling to put up with all of this, there are plenty other desperates waiting in line. You may be overbooked. Peak passenger times, free seating and overlapping ticket sales may cause you to be bumped to the next bus, or forced to sit in odd places such as on the protruding engine box at the back of the bus.And finally – you will do it all over again. Because this is Malaysia, after all. First-world infrastructure is available only in Putrajaya. Deal with it. Get used to it. Learn the system. We budget travelers have no other choice.
Scott Thong Yu Yuen
I wrote the letter due to my various bad experiences with interstate buses and their ticketing booths, traversing the highways from Johor Bahru to K.L, and even to Ipoh and Penang for for work, weddings and holidays.
In particular, the worst experience I had was on 9 April 2007. Me and a colleague had intended to return to Johor after working the SmartKids Education Fair at PWTC that weekend. That day was a holiday for JB (but not for KL), and thus the high number of passengers wanting to go back spending their 3-day weekend up north.
The ticketing counters naturally took this chance to up the ticket price, from RM24 at usual times to RM35 on that day.
And since many of the usual (better) bus companies were sold out, we had to settle for a second choice company (which I shall not name).
We were told that the departure time would be at 11.30am, which was one reason we took the tickets instead of waiting for a more trusted (but much later) bus.
Haha! Yeah, we really deserved to be suckered in by forgetting that this is Malaysia! We and the other passengers were instructed by an old uncle to follow him to outside the Pudu bus station. There we waited on one of the road islands.
The bus actually finally pulled up at around noon, I think. And, lo and behold, there wasn’t enough seating for everyone who had tickets! Wow, guess the bus companies are imitating the airline overbooking system in order to rake in more profits, eh!
My colleague got onto that bus, but me and two other guys had to go back to Pudu station and wait for the next available bus, arrival/departure time not stated.
We had a bit of wandering about too, as we had only been told to go and wait at the platform… But had no guarantee the next bus knew we were supposed to hop on, or even what bus type and number plate it was!
In the end, the bus arrived at about 12.30pm. Thankfully, the guide summoned all the awaiting passengers from the platform to the island again. And us three castaway maroons managed to get seats too!
But, as befits such a lovely bedtime story… The bus waited for last minute passengers. The end.